Yesterday I was asked: What is on the minds of senior leaders who attend your workshops, what themes do you see in the issues they face? I responded by recapping a video I often show – picture a business professional in his forties, dressed in his freshly pressed suit. He starts his morning business as usual by walking into his building lobby and stepping onto the escalator. Within seconds, the escalator breaks down, halting completely. Stunned, this gentleman pauses and then frustratingly waits on his step, first standing, and then eventually sitting.
Participants reaction to this clip is always, “Why doesn’t he just walk up the steps?!”
This response ties to the most common concern leaders talk to me about: CHANGE. It’s faster and more frequent than ever before, aka. “an escalator breaks everyday! This never used to happen! But we’re in our M&A or software implementation or C-suite change now, so how do we produce results in this environment?”
My answer to this concern is the one that leaders never want to hear (and the one you may not want to read!): LEADERSHIP. There’s no substitute for it when it’s working and no substitute for it when it’s absent.
The gentleman on the escalator knows how to walk up steps; he made it there, didn’t he? But for some reason he’s not leading his own course – he’s waiting for someone or something to come fix it. Most likely he’s been taught this behavior by one of us who didn’t make time to teach and went for the short term, “let me do it, it’s faster” trap (oops).
To perform in heavy change environments, I’ve put together my leadership “We Will” list for 2016.
- Believe that leadership is and will be developed (not born with or into)
- Make time to teach leadership at all levels of our organizations
- Embrace Authentic Leadership - this has nothing to do with credentials, and everything to do with self-awareness and communication (thank you @AlisonVidotto)
- Practice inclusive leadership by being accessible, proactively inviting input, and acknowledging our own fallibility (thank you @amyedmondson)
Trust me, I wish our elevators wouldn’t break at all. But whether we’re sitting in a start up or in a large enterprise, they do. And when this happens we all need our talent to instinctively walk up the steps. It begins with us walking up them first, culture is leader led after all. With change as a constant, so is the need for committed leadership at all levels in our organizations. Try on a “we will” this week, there’s a high likelihood a man or woman on the escalator will thank you.